Off of the freeSmallest Giant EP, “Lighters” is a nice hip-hop cut in it’s own right. It’s nothing earth shattering, but Bannon’s post-9th Wonder soul bounce holds things down for C Plus’ flow. There’s really not much to say about this one -just sit back, relax and let the beat ride.
Você E Eu (You and I) -Carlos Lyra and Paul Winter
This song is smooth in a way you’ve never imagined before. The first cut from the 1964 LP The Sound of Ipanema, this tune is the smoothest chunk of Bossa Nova I think I’ve ever heard. I mean, it’s not elevator music (though it would be very pleasant to hear in an elevator) -its rich melody and all star band allows it to transcend that. Each note is placed perfectly, both melodically and rhythmically; It’s the kind of song that carries with it no worries. It’s the sound of life being in order, even if just for a moment.
Maybe rocking Jay-Z beats is a right of passage in the industry these days. Maybe “Dead Presidents” is just the best vehicle for the hungry rapper though; the hook being the perfect statement of intent. This tune is J. Cole’s take on the classic, and he doesn’t disappoint -holding his own with confident punchlines that simmer with uncommon intensity.
Just Begun -Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli & DJ Hi-Tek) featuring Jay Electronica, J. Cole and Mos Def
It’s funny, when Mos Def and Talib Kweli were earning their rep, they did it by becoming a new voice for Hip-Hop’s old-school. Over ten years later however, they’ve become ambassadors for a new school of MC’s and producers. This tune demonstrates this perfectly as Talib and Mos trade verses with up-and-comers Jay Electronica and J. Cole. The tune really works too: Hi-Tek’s spacey production allows the listener to focus on the MC’s, which is what the song is about. There’s no weak link here either, just four dope verses for our listening pleasure. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty old school concept these days.
In music criticism, much respect is paid to innovators and musicians who look to push the boundaries of music. This is often pushed to the utmost, extolling the virtue of “progress” at all costs. Channeling the work of Curtis Mayfield, “The Ills” tells the stories of dire circumstances through an uplifting blend of 70’s style horns and funky drumming. This works as the counterpoint to the “innovation” argument, focusing on tried and true song craft instead of this pursuit of newness, and does all the better for it.
Pretty Girls -Wale featuring Gucci Mane (Prod. Best Kept Secret)
This is the way I wish that most of Wale’s Attention Deficit was produced. Not that I don’t want him to grow and explore, but the Go-Go influenced styles of Best Kept Secret have always seemed to suit him best. Anyways, this is the guy I’ve been rooting for to make it mainstream, and to see him become a household name on the strength of this single would be great. The song itself is catchy, but not in the bland way that has become familiar on urban radio -it’s clattering drums and soulful vocal hook make it a success in substance as well as style.
Black Milk is insane. The Detroit native’s output in the past two years was tremendous, both in quantity and quality. “Keep Going,” off of the anticipated Album of the Year is no exception to this rule. The track features a dense, claustrophobic attack of enough booming live drums and guitar samples to make anyone who still calls it “Detroit rock city” proud. The track acts as a foundation for Black Milk’s mission statement -that he’s “gotta keep going.” We can only hope that he sticks to it. “And you don’t stop.”
Curren$y isn’t known for his lyrics, okay? I mean, he says some pretty awesome things sometimes, but it’s the blunted, cooled out way he tells you about himself that makes him so enjoyable. And in that sense, “Breakfast” is the holy grail of Curren$y songs -He rocks this beat with perfect confidence and weeded out charisma. Besides that though, this is him firing on all cylinders, dropping some of the illest, strangest and coolest shit-talking I heard last year. Mos also plays his part with unfaltering confidence; His beat dips, dives and wanders through boozy horns, snares and hi-hat tailored perfectly to Curren$y’s flow. If this is breakfast, I can’t imagine whats for lunch, much less for supper.
I was at first a bit hesitant to put this song up, but in the long run, the rhythm got the best of me. “Diplomat’s Son,” off of the much buzzed Contra, is the prep rock band’s first honest stab at reggae. As much as class warriors and purists would like to say this comes off as phony and contrived, this song doesn’t feel that way. It doesn’t have the intention to be the Jamaican interpretation of reggae and instead means to channel, for better or worse, the thrills of their upper-class living. Again though, what got us here is the rhythm -the song bounces and rolls through electronics, M.I.A. samples and stabs of reggae piano. Vampire Weekend are having fun, even lacing the African drum jam at song end with elegant strings, and really, who are we to say they can’t?
This is one of those songs you never expect. Royce has been a clever lyricist for as long he’s been in the game, but even when his lyrics have dug deep, it’s always into what’s around him. Over a subdued DJ Premier beat he speaks to his problems with alcohol, his visit to prison, the stress of succeeding in the music industry, and even the loss of friends. These demons are what populate a multitude of Hip-Hop, but this is one of those rare songs where you experience the truly tough guy become vulnerable on the mic. Royce talks strait to you on this song, and while he allows himself tough guy braggadocio on the third verse, his fear and anxiety in the first two verses is palpable.
Jay Electronica is something else. Many MC’s have come up in the game of hype over the years, and you pull for ‘em because, y’know, you don’t wanna be hip-hop’s doubting thomas. But every time one of these MC’s is going for it, we all have our doubts; whether they can make it in the mainstream, if they’ll fall off when they get big, if they’re the real deal and etc etc. Jay Elec is different to me though. He has such a stong lyrical presence and such a strong character. I just don’t have a doubt in my mind about Jay -he’s gonna be big or be dropping cult records for as far into the future one can even think in Hip-Hop. Exhibit C, the second released chapter of his work with producer Just Blaze is dope in a way too simple to deny. It doesn’t sound like any Hip-Hop song I’ve ever heard, despite the fact that it’s built exactly the same. It has the vintage soul sample, fifty to sixty some bars of Jay’s own story told, and Just Blaze playing the part of hoarse old school hype man. The difference is in execution, though. Jay is thoughtful, articulate, and honest over one the best Just Blaze beats I’ve heard. Oh yeah, did I mention? Jay Electronica is the future of Hip-Hop.
Boy Meets World is one of those Hip-Hop albums that gets overlooked in a year of cats trying to rep 1994 in 2009 (2010!) and mainstream kids who don’t know what year they rep. Producer Exile lays down some smooth bossa nova for Fashawn to kick some deceivingly light lyrics on the subject of fame, and the struggle to reach it. What really makes the song for me though, is Aloe Blacc’s hook; It has feel of an old R&B song without dooming itself to being a cheesy hip-hop ‘period piece,’ so to speak. All things considered, I may have to rethink my 2009 Hip-Hop picks.